Restaurant rage – what would you have done?

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Have you ever been overcharged in a restaurant? What did you do? (Picture from Kiwanja's Flickr Stream)

The other day Ricky and I went out for a posh meal in a swanky restaurant. We’re not normally in the habit of doing this – our style is more curry house than cordon bleu – but we’d decided to skip Christmas presents this year and treat ourselves to some fine dining instead.

I’m not going to name our destination – for reasons that will become obvious – but the meal was pretty swish. Tasty hot bread; an amuse bouche of velvety mushroom soup in a teeny tiny cup; ZOMG CRACKLING! belly pork (his) stuffed quail (mine) for starters; rather bizarrely deconstructed bouillabaise for his main course (i.e. bits of seafood balanced precariously on tiny turrets of potato), char-grilled salmon with a wobbly tower of what was allegedly lasagna for mine; salted caramel popcorn sorbet palate cleanser that I would kill to taste again; a selection of delicious chocolate desserts; and finally, a platter of perfectly ripe cheeses. Add on a bottle of nice wine, a couple of glasses of dessert wine and two espressos, and it was a wonderful meal.

And then came the bill. I’d been expecting it to be quite big, and it was. But something was amiss. I’d definitely ordered the cheapest glasses of dessert wine (£6.50), but we’d been billed for two glasses at £9.50 – an overcharge of £6 in total.

I started to grumble at Ricky about it, as I hate being ripped off. He pointed out that it was less than 5 per cent of the total bill, and that complaining about such a small amount would make me look like a moron and a cheapskate. In the end I decided not to say anything, but left with a bad grace and a cloud hanging over what had been a lovely evening. Needless to say, I won’t be going there again either.

Was I wrong not to complain? Was Ricky right to do the English thing and keep schtum? What would you have done? And what’s the best meal you’ve ever had?

20 responses to “Restaurant rage – what would you have done?

  1. I’ve worked at several restaurants here state-side (nothing as fancy as the one you went to). Over here it wouldn’t be considered rude to politely point out to your waiter that they made a mistake on the bill. If you mind you manners and act nicely most servers will be understanding and very apologetic.

    Unfortunately not everyone here has manners so I’ve seen and heard many coworkers yelled at for less serious offenses. The restaurant business isn’t for the faint-hearted.

  2. Basically what Iason said. Everyone makes mistakes at their jobs, waiters included. Its not making a fuss to quietly point out that you believe they had made a mistake. Chances are you would have received an apology and a smaller bill, some restaurants I’ve worked in would have simply removed the charges for the wine altogether.

    Don’t let it spoil your evening though, like I said a genuine msitake, not a rip off, and I don’t think it should put you off returning if the food was good and the service otherwise acceptable.

    • I really wish I’d said something now – it did make me feel very annoyed at the time, but then I started doubting myself, and didn’t want to make a fuss. Bah. I’ll know for next time.

  3. I would definitely have asked them to take it off the bill. I wouldn’t even think of that as complaining – I’d assume it was an honest mistake on their part and they wouldn’t mind at all. When I go out for a meal with friends I tend to get put in charge of splitting up the bill, and the last time I pointed out a mistake which was less than £3 on a bill of over £200 for six people.

    Like you, I’m more curry house than cordon bleu, but the posh veggie nosh at , where I went for my birthday last year, could change my mind on that.

  4. I always complain (and I’m English!). If they’ve made a mistake, it’s their fault. My boyfriend is a bit of a consumer rights champion and is brilliant at this kind of thing. I’m always nice about it though (except for once, when a woman in pizza express of all places insisted that my pizza WASN’T cold and then tried it herself. Weird).

    I’m mostly lucky with meals out, but I recently got verbally abused by a staff member in Morrisson’s for quite some time, he made me cry and all I received from the store was a generic ‘sorry for the inconvenience’ e-mail. That was the first time I’d ever shopped there and I won’t be doing it again!

  5. I always remember the first time I sent a plate of food back. It was at Carluccio’s in Covent Garden. I can’t remember what the dish was but it was lukewarm at best and I decided that this wasn’t tolerable in what is marketed as a quality establishment.

    The waitress was most apologetic and worked quickly to bring me a hot meal as soon as possible. I was most impressed, and it was quite a cathartic experience; until that point, I’d always been reticent about airing a grievance (though I still am when it comes to pub grub – they wouldn’t really know how to put it right).

    The service is an important part of the package when you go fine dining, and if problems like this are dealt with professionally, I may be even more inclined to recommend a restaurant, rather than steer clear. I think your vow to never go to this place again is a bit churlish, Kat!

    As for my best meal, no contest. The Spotted Pig, in Greenwich Village, New York.

    I went there about 18 months ago, so I don’t remember everything that I had, but the main course was a deliciously cooked poussin with a tomato-based salad and all sorts of lovelliness: Every course was absolutely superb, the wine was fantastic, our server knew absolutely everything there was to know about everything on the menu, and the atmosphere was terrific and unstuffy. Best eating experience ever. In fact, I want to go back there right now.

    • That sounds delicious 🙂

      I’ll admit to being churlish about not wanting to go back – but at the moment I couldn’t afford it anyway!

  6. I’d have gently pointed out the mistake and suggested that, in the light of that, they might want as a gesture of goodwill to take it off the bill and give me the second glass anyway 😉 . They could say no and you’d still get the money back. Brass neck sometimes works and free dessert wine is not to be sneezed at, so to speak.

  7. It was probably an honest mistake! Never fear a polite comment to correct. As a previous commenter said, they would probably have simply removed the cost for any dessert wine at all. If I were you I would try not to hold that rather sour end to (what sounded like) a lovely meal spoil the whole experience. By all means go back and try to exorcise those demons! And don’t be afraid to be assertive! Your money is just as good as anyone else’s and you deserve to be there as much as anyone. Don’t let that hold you back from querying or complaining if need be. I’m afraid my conclusion is that Ricky was wrong!

  8. I’d probably have pointed it out as a mistake then asked them to take it off, with a big smile (still English). My other half and I had the opposite issue on our first ‘posh’ meal out, they didn’t put the wine on the bill! We had a bit of a debate what to do, as we had enjoyed ourselves emmensely, ended up not pointing it out but leaving a tip that would have covered it.

  9. Being a restaurant owner and a person who sometimes eats out, I would have said politely that maybe there was a mistake in the bill – restaurants can some times be very busy at certain times of the day and mistakes can be made, I honestly don´t think anybody would have been offended by you saying your bill was wrong, so if it ever happens again do something about it because the restaurant has maybe lost a customer and any possible customer that might go there because you recomend the restuarant to them. I have sometimes wondered why seemingly happy customer haven´t come back and its maybe silly things like that so with a bit of customer feeback future mistakes can be avoided.

    • Thanks for your insight Alison. I am definitely going to speak up next time. And when I win the lottery, I might give this place another chance 🙂

  10. My brother-in-law has run restaurants for the last 25 years, and he always says he’d much rather patrons speak up if they’re unhappy about something, because if they don’t, well, exactly what you said — you won’t go back, nor will you tell your friends to go there. If you had said something, maybe they would have been pricks about it, but you’d have 6 quid to spend in some other establishment. Or maybe they would have been nice about it and also told you how to make the salted caramel popcorn extravaganza. Yum.

  11. Depends how much it is, really.

    Best food comes from Archipelago – zebra, wildebeest, kangaroo, sour green mango, cloudberries.. chocolate covered scorpions and muscat!

    But i want to try terre a terre after recieving one of their cookbooks.

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